According to a recent study, COVID-19 may be the cause of a rare eye infection that causes vision loss. Over the course of two months, three COVID-19 patients in one New York health system developed keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea. Keratitis then resulted in endophthalmitis, an infection of the tissues or fluids inside the eyeball.
Endophthalmitis causes extensive inflammation and swelling of the tissues, leading to decreased vision or blindness. It also triggers the formation of new blood vessels which can further damage the eye and lead to retinal detachment.
"I see things like this, but very rarely," said researcher Dr. Amilia Schrier, a professor of ophthalmology at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
Having three cases of endophthalmitis in such a short time is exceedingly rare, and because they were all tied to COVID-19 infection it needed to be investigated, she said. "The whole point is to alert people of the association, but I cannot say specifically that COVID causes it."
Schrier cannot confirm or deny that COVID-19 caused the endophthalmitis, but she also cannot rule it out. Of the three patients, one died from COVID-19, another had to have an eye removed "despite heroic efforts to save the eye," and a third lost all sight, Schrier said.
Although endophthalmitis is extremely rare, viruses can cause it, according to Schrier. Since conducting her research, Schrier has learned of other endophthalmitis instances connected to COVID-19 individuals, including one in Australia and one in Boston.
All the patients were in their 60s and were provided with care at Northwell Health's Ophthalmology Department.
Additionally, Schrier noted that the three patients had underlying medical issues that might have exacerbated their COVID-19 and increased their susceptibility to other illnesses while they attempted to treat the infection.
According to Schrier, it is rare for keratitis to turn into endophthalmitis. According to a 2012 study, just 27 of nearly 10,000 eyes examined over a 15-year period experienced endophthalmitis brought on by keratitis, she noted.
The only other eye condition linked to COVID-19 has been conjunctivitis, also called pink eye, which is a minor infection, Schrier added.
Conjunctivitis, popularly known as pink eye, is the only other eye disease associated with COVID-19, Schrier added.